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Senate confirms Obama's first D.C. Circuit Court nominee

May 23, 2013|By David G. Savage
  • Sri Srinivasan testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sri Srinivasan testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)

WASHINGTON -- Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan, a rising star in legal circles, won an easy and unanimous Senate confirmation Thursday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, giving President Obama his first appointee to a conservative-leaning court that decides major regulatory disputes.

Srinivasan, 46, who was born in India, but grew up in Lawrence, Kan., was praised as being exceptionally smart, highly qualified and even-tempered. Unlike with other Obama nominees, Republicans said they had no hesitance in approving Srinivasan. And some Democrats raised the prospect that he could be a future nominee to the Supreme Court.

He won confirmation on a 97-0 vote.

“We may be seeing him coming before the Senate again soon,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Since graduating from Stanford Law School in 1995, Srinivasan has clerked at the Supreme Court for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, worked as a government attorney in both the Bush and Obama administrations and practiced law at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington.

In his best known case, Srinivasan argued on behalf of former Enron chief Jeffrey Skilling in the appeal of his criminal conviction for fraud. By a 9-0 vote, the court agreed Skilling was wrongly convicted for denying the company his “honest services,” but it upheld the other charges against him.

Two years ago, Srinivasan was appointed deputy solicitor general, working in the Justice Department office that represents the administration in the Supreme Court.

Obama was unable to put a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court during his first term. His initial nominee, New York attorney Caitlin Halligan, was blocked by Republicans who cited her work on a state suit against gun manufacturers. Obama then turned to Srinivasan, and his nomination moved quickly through the Senate.

He will join a court that now has seven full-time judges, four of whom were appointed by Republicans and three by Democrats. But the court also has four senior judges who were named by President Reagan in the 1980s, and they continue to participate in many cases.

By law, the D.C. Circuit is authorized to have 11 full-time judges, and Democrats were insistent on breaking the logjam that has kept the seats vacant.

“It’s sort of a lodestone of the hard right to make sure they control the D.C. Circuit,” Schumer said at a news conference prior to the vote. “The sad fact is, even when we confirm Mr. Srinivasan, the all-important D.C. Circuit will still have three vacancies.”

But Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) fired back and blamed the Democrats for “shenanigans” over the court nominees. “The fact of the matter is there is no obstruction, and the other side knows it,” he said. He said the Senate has confirmed 99% of Obama’s court nominees that have come to a vote.

Nationwide, 82 judicial seats are vacant, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; Obama has 24 pending nominees.

Staff writer Michael Memoli contributed to this report.

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